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Despite Stigma, Nigerian Parents Demand Justice in Child Sex Cases

All are new cases of suspected child abuse, according to Dr. Musa Shuaibu, a pediatrician

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Child Sex Cases
Mercy Philip (left) with her 8-year-old daughter (right in white) meet with a lawyer in northern Nigeria. VOA

Mercy Philip will never forget January 12, 2017.

That’s the day she says her 8-year-old daughter walked up to her and asked if she could wash her panties.

Philip asked her daughter why she needed to wash her panties and her daughter said a male neighbor had “climbed on her body” and then told her to wash her panties afterward.

The mother immediately took her daughter to a clinic. And on the same day, Philip and her husband went to the police. The neighbor, who was arrested based on the medical report, was released from jail and is awaiting trial.

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Yet the family’s life has been upended.

They have been ridiculed by people in the community, pressured to drop the charges, and condemned for “trying to ruin a man’s life,” Philip said. When her daughter goes outside, people stare, laugh or throw stones at her, the mother said.

Social stigma

The shame and social stigma attached to sexual abuse stop most families in Nigeria from seeking justice. They usually end up settling cases of child sex abuse through cash payments often quietly negotiated by religious leaders.

“To settle means to forget about it … let sleeping dogs lie,” said Bukola Ajao, the Philips’ lawyer. “Please, we are sorry, but this kind of matter is not something that you just apologize for.”

The most recent data available on child sex abuse in Nigeria is from 2014. That study — from Nigeria’s National Population Commission, the U.N. Children’s Fund and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — revealed that 1-in-4 girls and 1-in-10 boys in Nigeria experience sexual violence before the age of 18.

child sex cases
Doctors at Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital at Kaduna State University say they see abused children on a daily basis. VOA

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The Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital at Kaduna State University in the Kaduna state capital handles requests to provide evidence for suspected child sex abuse. At the time VOA visited the hospital, in the space of 30 minutes, more than five women with children had entered the ward.

All are new cases of suspected child abuse, according to Dr. Musa Shuaibu, a pediatrician.

“Nearly on a daily basis, there would be one form of abuse or the other. And that is quite alarming in view of the fact that quite a negligible fraction, actually get reported to the hospital,” Shuaibu said.

Activists seek new law

Activists are lobbying Kaduna state to approve the federal Child Rights Act of 2003 that mandates a 14-year jail sentence for a child sex abuse conviction and life imprisonment for rape. Eleven states in the north, including Kaduna, have not ratified it. Instead, those states rely on Sharia courts and a colonial-era penal code to prosecute child sex abuse.

Kaduna State Minister of Women and Social Development Hajia Hafsatu Mohammed Baba told VOA the state government is committed to passing it. But the Supreme Sharia Council has said that the federal statute is a Western import and an attempt to restrict Sharia courts.

Meanwhile, families are often left with only difficult choices.

“You know how things are around here. Things like this can never be buried,” said Asabe Musa, whose daughter was molested when she was 5 years old. “This is the kind of story that goes around … maybe when the girl does find someone to marry, someone will go and tell his family what happened to her.”

After hearing about the abuse, relatives of Musa’s husband, who live in northern Nigeria, traveled to Kaduna to speak with Musa about settling the case. Afterwards, they took the child with them, hoping that she would be less stigmatized in a community where she is unknown.

Musa, whose face is lined with sorrow, said she wants her daughter back.

Few go to court

At one orphanage in the center of town, children dance around together in a circle. A slender young woman clenches the hand of her little girl. The woman, who asked to be identified as Ladi, said she can’t go to court as it was her father who raped her young daughter.

“My daughter was covered in blood. I picked her up and just stood there. He was someone I had always respected, so I didn’t say anything to him. I picked her up and went to town with her in the morning,” she said.

She has been running ever since. Going back to her village is not an option, she said, as her father is a chief there.

For the past decade, Hauwa Hassan, the owner, and manager of the orphanage has worked with about 20 families dealing with child sex abuse. She says only three of them took her advice to go to court. Those cases were never concluded.

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child sex cases
A fruit seller is serving a 3-year jail sentence for luring this 7-year-old orphan into his shop and sexually abusing him. VOA

One 7-year-old orphan said he was walking to school when an old fruit seller offered a pear to lure the boy into the back of his shop. The abuse went on until the boy complained to his uncle about pains in his body.

“When it happened, the first thing we did has we stopped him from going out and even from school and kept him at home,” the boy’s uncle, Anas Umar, said, blinking hard to stop the tears.

“I wrote the police statement myself. A lot of my friends first suggested we all go and beat him up, but I didn’t because of what could follow. I can’t take the law into my own hands… I can’t just go and take his sins upon myself,” he added. “Other people were telling me to just leave the matter because the man is too old, but what he did was serious…The judgment passed was not enough, but still, I thank God there was some sort of judgment.”

The court found the fruit seller guilty under a colonial-era sodomy law. He couldn’t pay the 80,000 naira — about $200 — fine so he is serving a 3-year jail sentence.

“That is what he deserved. That will scare others like him,” Umar said. “The judgment passed was not enough but still, I thank God there was some sort of judgment.” (VOA)

Next Story

Nigerian Elections : Debates All About Economy, Insecurity and Corruption

Buhari’s supporters call him “the incorruptible man.” But critics accuse Nigerian military officials of corruption and say Buhari's administration has looked the other way.

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Nigeria
Demonstrators appeal for peaceful elections in Nigeria during an event in Abuja, Feb. 6, 2019. Presidential and legislative elections are set for Saturday, Feb. 16. (G. Alheri/VOA)

Nigerians go to the polls Saturday to choose a president and legislature for Africa’s most populous country, returning two weeks later to pick state governors and local representatives.

Voters in the West African nation must decide whether to grant a second term to President Muhammadu Buhari.

The 76-year-old former military leader won office in 2015 on promises to improve Nigeria’s oil-dependent economy, fight rampant corruption and quell insecurity — especially in the northeast plagued by Islamist extremists.

Buhari’s main challenger — in a field of at least 60 contenders — is Atiku Abubakar, a 72-year-old businessman and former vice president campaigning on a similar platform.

But another issue looms over the vote: election-related violence. Last Sunday alone, five people were fatally shot near the southeastern city of Warri in what local police attributed to political divides, the AFP news agency reported. The shootings had followed clashes between young supporters of Buhari’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition People’s Democratic Party fronted by Abubakar.

“Violence is the major problem of every election,” said Patricia Onoja, a 60-year-old retired nurse in Abuja, the capital. She told VOA she counsels young people to resist any thuggery – a mission undertaken by other Nigerian parent groups, too.

Human Rights Watch says that more than 800 people died in 2011 election-related violence. But voting in 2015 brought the comparatively peaceful handover of power from Goodluck Jonathan to Buhari.

Now, the country will be tested on whether it “can successfully conduct two consecutive, credible elections,” says Oge Onubogu, a Nigerian-born Africa program officer with the United States Institute of Peace who closely follows the elections.

Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it’s prepared for Saturday’s vote, despite troubles such as a suspected arson fire at its annex in the Middle Belt city of Jos.

Clement Nwankwo, a lawyer and convener of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, said that umbrella group has built “a good relationship” with the INEC. Nwankwo said the Situation Room has trained monitors and will relay any concerns – from missing elections materials to allegations of abuse – so INEC can address problems quickly. “We’re able to intervene,” he said.

Here’s a closer look at the campaign issues:

Security

Buhari, in a late-December interview with VOA at the presidential villa in Abuja, said Nigerian security troops had reduced the amount of territory controlled by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram in the country’s northeast.

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari, at right, greets supporters during a campaign rally in Rivers State on Feb. 12, 2019. He seeks a second term in the election Saturday.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, at right, greets supporters during a campaign rally in Rivers State on Feb. 12, 2019. He seeks a second term in the election Saturday. VOA

 

“Now you can check in the northeast that Boko Haram is not holding any local government, per se,” he said.

FILE – A still image taken from video shows a group of girls, released by Boko Haram jihadists after kidnapping them in 2014 in the north Nigerian town of Chibok, sitting in a hall as they are welcomed by officials in Abuja, Nigeria, May 7, 2017.
FILE – A still image taken from video shows a group of girls, released by Boko Haram jihadists after kidnapping them in 2014 in the north Nigerian town of Chibok, sitting in a hall as they are welcomed by officials in Abuja, Nigeria, May 7, 2017.
But a decade after their emergence, the Boko Haram militants have kidnapped hundreds of people – most notably girls from a school in Chibok, many of whom still are missing. They’ve also killed tens of thousands and displaced millions. And now an offshoot group, the Islamic State West Africa Province, has added to the destabilization.

Another threat comes from increased conflicts between herdsmen and farmers over land use in the so-called Middle Belt. The International Crisis Group reports more than 1,300 related deaths since January 2018.

Abubakar blames the Buhari administration for what he calls Nigeria’s “worst insecurity. … It was confined to the northeast” when Buhari took office but now has spread.

John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria and a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, edits the CRF Nigeria Security Tracker. It maps reported violence around the country.

He said he sees “no new ideas from either candidate about how to deal with Boko Haram, no real discussion about the much more broad-based security issues which now cover the entire country.”

Economy

Though oil-rich Nigeria has one of Africa’s leading economies, it’s still recovering from the 2014 plunge in crude prices. Poverty is rife in the country of nearly 200 million, with an estimated 87 million (44 percent) who are desperately poor, according to the World Poverty Clock.

Men stand near displayed merchandise for sale around the informal sector at the Wuse market in Abuja, Nigeria, Jan. 30, 2018.
Men stand near displayed merchandise for sale around the informal sector at the Wuse market in Abuja, Nigeria, Jan. 30, 2018.
In interviewing Nigerians late last spring, the Gallup World Poll found the highest level of food insecurity in 13 years. Three out of five respondents — 71 percent — said they lacked enough money for food at times during the previous 12 months.

“In terms of having money for food and shelter, things are as bad as they’ve ever been for Nigerians,” said Jay Loschky, the poll’s regional director for English-speaking Africa.

Buhari has said that, if granted a second term, he would focus on boosting job creation and completing infrastructure projects.

Abubakar — who worked in customs and the oil sector,and founded the private American University of Nigeria — says he has the business acumen to help guide the economy and encourage job creation.

In an interview with VOA last month in Washington, Abubakar derided the Buhari administration for Nigeria’s jobless rate, which officially rose to 23 percent in 2018’s third quarter, up from 19 percent the previous year. That translates to more than 20 million unemployed. “Twenty million is no joke,” he said. “It is a time bomb.”

Job creation is critical, especially given Nigeria’s huge and underemployed youth population.

John Sunday, 23-year-old student and first-time voter, poses for a picture in the Makoko shanty town built on stilts in a lagoon in Lagos, Feb. 4 , 2019.
John Sunday, 23-year-old student and first-time voter, poses for a picture in the Makoko shanty town built on stilts in a lagoon in Lagos, Feb. 4 , 2019.
Obadiah Tohomdet, a 63-year-old communications consultant in Abuja, said his son graduated from university five years ago and still has not found work except for odd jobs.

“The private sector is not expanding. … I think that’s the greatest problem we have in Nigeria,” Tohomdet told VOA. “And the youth, of course, are frustrated.” And vulnerable, he added. “They can be subject to manipulation and they could be used for antisocial activity. … It’s not that they are not ready to work. The atmosphere is very tough.”

Corruption

Buhari’s supporters call him “the incorruptible man.” But critics accuse Nigerian military officials of corruption and say Buhari’s administration has looked the other way.

Last month, the president also drew condemnation — domestically and from abroad — when he suspended Nigeria’s chief justice from the position where he would have a key say in resolving any election disputes.

FILE – People protest at the secretariat of the Nigerian Bar Association following the suspension of Nigeria’s Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, in Abuja Nigeria, Jan. 28, 2019.
FILE – People protest at the secretariat of the Nigerian Bar Association following the suspension of Nigeria’s Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, in Abuja Nigeria, Jan. 28, 2019.
The trial for Walter Onnoghen — who allegedly made false claims about his assets — is pending.

Abubakar has encountered clouds of suspicion over time. As the BBC pointed out in a candidate profile last week, he was accused in 2006 of diverting public money toward “his business interests” while serving as vice president. A 2010 report from the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations also alleged that Abubakar was involved in bringing “suspect funds into the United States” through the bank account of his American wife.

He was linked to another case: the bribery conviction of a U.S. congressman, William Jefferson, a Democrat from Louisiana. Identified by the U.S. government as a corrupt foreign official, Abubakar was barred entry to the country.

Supporters of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) attend a campaign rally in Lagos, Feb. 12, 2019.

Supporters of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) attend a campaign rally in Lagos, Feb. 12, 2019.

But he never faced any charges.

“Nobody has brought any evidence of corruption against me,” Abubakar said during his interview at VOA’s Washington headquarters.

His two-day January visit to the United States — his first in more than 12 years — dispelled the Nigerian rumor that he would be arrested upon arrival. Instead, the candidate met with some members of Congress, the State Department and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Abubakar was able to obtain a U.S. visa through the intervention of American lobbyists, Bloomberg news reported last week.

He also has said he would consider an amnesty program to encourage looters of public funds to voluntarily return the money.

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Improved confidence in voting

Nigerians view the approaching elections with modest but improved confidence in the process, according to a Gallup poll released Based on polling conducted in mid-2018, it found that roughly a third of respondents — 34 percent, up from 13 percent in 2014 — have faith in “the honesty of elections.”

By comparison, 49 percent of respondents in sub-Saharan African countries polled last year expressed confidence in their respective elections, said Gallup’s Loschky. He also said 37 percent of Americans voiced confidence in U.S. elections. (VOA)